Donald Schön had a lifelong career in philosophy and was very familiar with the works of Dewey. It was his success in developing Dewey’s theory of reflection that illustrations his relevance today. Schön (1983) described reflective practice as the way in which practitioners consider and use what they already know to learn from their experiences; this is usually something they do through instinct rather than something they explicitly think about. Schön believed that by exploring this information, practitioners improve and develop the expertise in their practice.
Like Dewey, Schön believed that an event should be revisited and reflected on in order to change future practice. From this, Schön built upon Dewey’s theory and reached the conclusion that are two types of reflection; reflection in-action and reflection on-action. Reflection in-action is defined as reflecting whilst engaging in the activity and evaluating the situation as it is happening. The practitioner must be able to adapt and change direction in that moment; this relies on how the practitioner is feeling and adapting the situation according to that feeling (Schön, 1983). Reflection on-action is defined as thinking about what happened after the event, the practitioner should consider or discuss what has happened with another practitioner, evaluating and clarifying the meaning of what happened. They should use their previous experiences to aid their future practice, aiding in the development of their ability to reflect in-action during upcoming events (Schön, 1983). Many writers have challenged Schon’s theory of reflection on the grounds that reflection in action cannot be achieved as they found it to be impossible to reflect effectively at the time; it was found that it is important to reflect retrospectively (Moon, 1999; Ekebergh, 2006; van Manen, 1990).
Through his research with Chris Argyris, Schön (1974) concluded that critical reflection contains two levels of learning. The first level of learning covers the idea of reflecting on something that has not worked and trying something else, the way the objective is met is changed; the second level covers a more complex reflective technique where the reflector thinks in depth about what the motivations for the action are, the ultimate objective is changed (Appleyard and Appleyard 2015; Cartwright, 2002). After researching the first and second levels of learning, Schön (1978) named them single and double loop learning, respectively. Schön and Argyris (1974) state that in order for practitioners to develop the ability to make informed and successful decisions in changing and uncertain contexts, double loop learning is necessary. In agreement with Schön, Finger and Asún (2000) write that it is possible and sufficient to consider, adjust and reflect through only double loop learning; they believe that it is not entirely necessary to use a model and follow the stages.
Schön’s theory of reflection is similar to Dewey’s with regard to how they stress the importance of using prior experiences. However, Schön (1978) extended his ideas on reflection, and founded a method that allows the practitioner to think and reflect when they are in the moment. With practice of this method, the reflection process can be less time consuming and can strengthen the practitioners capability to use their initiative and ability to adapt when the situations require it, rather than only having an idea for future practice. Many authors have criticised Schön’s lack of leadership on how to be critically reflective, some of which are Boud and Walker (1998) who state that Schön does not explain the context of reflection. There has since been further research and discussion on this subject, building on the work of Dewey, Schön and other theorists, to aid practitioners on how to utilise the methods of reflection and models to reflect critically (Allin and Turnock 2007; Ghaye, 2006). Others have critiqued Schön’s work for not stressing the importance of reflecting before the learning experience takes place (Greenwood, 1993; Boud 1985). Boud theorised that reflecting before the experience allows the practitioner to prepare for what may happen.
Boud, Keogh and Walker (1985) suggest the lack of emotional regard in their reflection process’ is a flaw. The authors state that taking the emotions presented in the event into consideration is the only way for reflection to be an effective method of learning. They also reason that when reflecting on action, emotions can affect the way the event is recalled; the reflector may consider the event to have been more or less successful than what it was in reality, they may also reflect on one part of the event that particularly stands out to them. They conclude that disregarding the impact emotions have on the practitioner can cause the reflection to be biased or untrue. However, in consideration Dewey’s and Schön’s theories, Ewens (2014) recognises that some situations require the removal of emotions preventing the possibility of judgements being made irrationally.